Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Catholic Man, the Catholic Priest as Provider

In past columns, I have written about the role of the Catholic man and the Catholic priest as warrior and healer.  Certainly, the role of the shepherd includes these things.  The shepherd must defend his flock and must heal his flock when damage has happened.  However, the vast majority of the time of a shepherd is in feeding his flock.  He also trains his flock so they don't wander away and into danger. 

Many men used to see the role of provider as the strongest role.  However, it was narrow definition: they earned the money to buy what was needed for the care of their family. This is important to be sure.  But being a provider is much larger.  Why?  Because the needs of his flock are much greater than merely taking care of their physical beings.  Because our flock are also spiritual and intellectual beings, there are things that we do to provide to address.

The husband is called by the Scriptures to be the spiritual head of the home.  This has fallen in so very many ways in western Christianity.  When the father abandons the faith, it has a profound effect on the faith of their flock.  In 1994, the Swiss government commissioned a stud that was published in 2000.  the study was on the effect of the faith of parents on the faith of their children.  The largest factor was the faith or lack thereof the father.  If the dad is disengaged from faith or random about faith, they likelihood of the child adhering to the faith plummeted to 2-3%.  When the dad model faithlessness, the children will normally and overwhelmingly follow suit.  How can we believe that the God who gave these children to our care will take kindly to our isolating our children from Him?

Husbands have a primary job before God to lead their wife and children to God.  He has his wife leading him closer to God.  A man can provide every earthly benefit to his child but lead both him and his children to eternal damnation if he neglects teaching his children to enter into and hold onto a relationship with Christ and His Church. So many men will abandon this role to their wife who already has a role in the spiritual development of her children.  Some do this because they are indifferent to faith.  Some do it because they feel inadequate.  Most do because being a spiritual head of home was not modeled for them.  They don't know how to do it. Their dads didn't teach them how and neither did their priests.

A priest is called 'father'.  That is not a title of respect.  No, it is a constant reminder of his duty.  I would imagine every time a dad hears his child call him 'dad', he is reminded of the duty he owes this child.  A bad dad only worries about what the child owes him  A bad priest only worries about what he is owed.  Every time I hear 'father', I don't hear a clerical version of being called mister, no I hear the voice of someone who is looking to me to provide.  It is the term of a relationship. 

When we priests run our parishes as businesses, fraternal orders, social work agencies, or country clubs, we poison the role we are to fill.  When we cease to see our parishioners as our family, fellow members of the Body of Christ and see them as customers, we radically denigrate the spiritual heritage we are given.  Being a dad is not a 9-5 job.  The children will have needs 24/7.  Our flock, our parishioners, have needs 24/7.  We priests are supposed to model what it means to be a spiritual head of the home.  I believe the more we center our identity on the this, the greater we see vocations rise.  We must stop delegating our duties to series of nannies and walk away for our own self fulfillment.  The spiritual head of him is called to be poured out like a libation, not walled up behind a dam whose spillways are occasionally opened and only the excess is let loose.

Both dads/husbands and priests must understand that being the provider is a matter of throwing money at bills and programs and letting someone else do the interpersonal stuff.   Well kept buildings are worthless when they stand empty.  Providing the care and leadership is more hands on and done a personal cost.  The greatest thing we provide is example.  We are called by virtue of our baptism to build up the Body of Christ; that is done by the active engagement in the lives of those placed in our care.  That is done by consciously and selflessly providing for those in our care. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Catholic Man, the Catholic Priest as Physician

The Scriptures are littered with miracles.  From the cure of paralytics, the blind, deaf, and even dead, Jesus is a divine physician.  In many of these stories a direct correlation is made between the physical healing and the forgiveness of sins.  In previous columns I have written about how the Catholic man and the catholic priest are called to be warriors.  Some of their duties also are in the realm of Jesus the healer.  We true Catholic men must be agents of healing.

To this end we are given the tools of wisdom, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness.  It is a divine art to apply these as needed.  Wisdom teaches us the difference between condoning behavior and forgiving.  Wisdom teaches us the difference between mercy and enabling destructive behavior.  Compassion teaches us how to apply the remedy.  As in medicine, sometimes one must be super gentle with a horrific wound, sometimes one must be a bit more forceful in setting a broken bone back into place, sometimes one must perform surgery to get at the wound, and sometimes one must be more forceful as in physical therapy.  The goal is always to heal, not to do further damage. Mercy teaches us to look with caution upon what needs be helped.  Forgiveness is the salve, the bandaging, the cast that helps the person to move forward.

As a physician, we must be truthful.  A poor physician withholds the truth in fear of a negative reaction.  The abusive physician neglects the ills of others or inflicts such fear as to make him unapproachable.  We Catholic men should be so attentive to the flock placed in our care that we notice the new limp or the sickly look.  Our compassion should look to address these things immediately.  Our compassion should draw those in need to us. This requires a great deal of selflessness and willingness to sacrifice and inconvenience  ourselves for the sake of our charges.  Inasmuch as we suffer the slings and arrows of or wicked enemy, the devil, so do those in our charge.  We don't leave the flock for dead.   In fact, we are told when we allow a person to stay in sin without at least calling them back, their death partially becomes our responsibility.  A courageous man doesn't shrug his shoulder and pass on by.  A catholic man doesn't abandon his role as physician.  The Catholic man must be wisely liberal with mercy and bind the wounds, even self inflicted, of his flock.

To my brother priests:  Nothing so scatters the flock like a neglectful or abusive priest.  Our flocks should find agents of God's rich mercy in each of us.  We, too, need to drink deeply of the the well of mercy.  A priest, or any man, who deludes himself into ignoring or facilitating his own sins will scarcely attend to the healing of other people's sin.  The priest that is keenly aware of his need for God's healing mercy will make that same mercy abundantly available to his flock.  So many times I have seen my brother clerics beat down someone who wishes to right their ship because they haven't got it righted just yet.  I have seen them turn them away because 'no' is easier than pulling people out of the wreckage.  Can we believe for a second we will be spared for such negligence and dereliction of duty?

I have seen brother priests who are extravagant with the times they afford for confession and are attentive to their dying and ill.  I have also seen some that treat confession as an undo burden and have a flock that dang well better have the decency to die during business hours or they are out of luck.  I pray for the mercy of God for those who die in a state of mortal sin because a priest would not make himself available in time of crisis.  Sometimes sharing in the role of the divine physician means you have the duty of the emergency room physician.  A physician on call doesn't say to the person rolled in with traumatic wounds, "Aw man, sorry, it's my lunch time...try not to bleed to death before I get back."

Whether it is the Catholic husband and father or the Catholic priest, we are given a part of a flock that is not ours first, the flock (our family or parish) belongs to God first.  We will be held responsible for what happens to our flock.  My brother priest, we fool ourselves if we think offering confessions once a week on a Saturday afternoon doesn't send a message that we don't think confession is all that important.  Some of the deepest hurt I have seen is from a family whose loved one was neglected in the last moments by a slothful priest.  To us, by virtue of our priestly ordination, has been given that singular grace of Orders by which to become agents of God's eternal forgiveness.  As men ourselves, we must model mercy to the men of our parish, not in mere fancy words, but in deeds as well.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Catholic Man, the Catholic Priest as Warrior

I will confess to being a bit of a history nerd.  So much of history is determined by battles.  Thermopylae, Marathon, Actium, Tours, Agincourt, Lepanto, Yorktown, Gettysburg, Midway, D-Day all leave permanent marks on history.  They change the course of history.  They give rise to heroes.  From Leonidas to Nimitz, the steel of men's hearts are tested.  Some die as did Leonidas at Thermopylae, some conquer as Nelson did at Trafalgar.  The conquering of territory and the rise and fall of empires hinge of such moments.  The difference of the trajectory of history lies in the balance.

History is a reflection of something far greater than this mere mortal world.  Nations have raged against each other for millennia.  The kingdoms they represent each fall into the annals of history.  We can get lost and even trapped in this world and forget that something so much greater is at stake.  The physical reflects the eternal.

I am not sure why, but the Church in the last several decades has let her guard down.  Some will cite Vatican II, but nowhere in Vatican II is such a thing called for.  Certainly the popes of this era have not called for the Church to lower her guard.  Yet if we look at the Church in the West in particular we are getting mowed down.  Our influence in our societies wanes to near non-existence.  Our churches and seminaries empty. What happened?  Some want to blame the popes, but no general, regardless of their personal greatness, can fight a war on his own.  If his officers and soldiers grow lax, there is little he can do.

Did we grow lax?  You bet we have!  The diseases that led to our laxity and indifference are centuries old, taking over like a slowly metastasizing cancer, cell by cell, man by man, dad by dad, husband by husband, priest by priest.  So ridiculous has the heights of this cancer grown that we seem ineffective against the most inane of claims of sexual perversion and social re-engineering.  We come across as emasculated, impotent, and  weak.  However, truth be told, within the heart of each of us men lies a Leonidas raging to be unleashed.

To all men, in the west we have accepted the lie that our lot is to be passive, quiet, and selfish.  We have been consigned to mom and dad's basement with our video games, pot, and porn to numb the pain of our own inadequacy.  We have bought the lie that nobility is found in the emasculation of being nice.  We who move more freely still move with constraints, afraid of the army of withering snowflakes and totalitarian politically correct brown shirts might somehow take offense at our words and actions and screech like a banshee on speed.  We see the Nurse Ratched ready to give us another numbing dose of alcohol, porn, narcotics, or any other agent that will shut us down.

This is beneath our dignity and it is high time for us to shake off these shackles and roar back.  But how?  How do we roar back?

1) Drop the numbing agents.  A discontent man will find a plethora of compensation habits to make up for the emasculation they feel.   Some indulge in a virtual world of video games and porn.  Some numb the aching through narcotics and alcohol.  Some throw themselves into the pursuit of promiscuity and masturbation.  Some find food as their numbing agent.  We must fight back.  We must fight our vices and rise above them.  In Roman Catholicism, we talk about mortifications, fasting, and abstinence.   Many do not even begin and many fall off right away because reining in our physiological pacifiers is hard...the longer we have engaged in them, the harder it is.

However, God does not bid His sons to engage is futile battles.  The answer is twofold.  First, we utilize these weapons of fasting, abstinence, and mortifications because it appeals to the men we are.  They help us conquer and not be conquered!  But these on their own will not be enough.  We will not conquer without the grace of God.

2) Remember whose son you are! When we catholic men were baptized, we became by the grace of God an adopted son of God.  Numbing agents rob us of our heritage.  They lead us to be prodigal with our heritage, wasting it through the cheap thrills of sin.  We need to stick close to our Father.  Make no mistake:  You will NOT be a strong son if you cut yourself from the sacramental life of the Church.  You need to immerse yourself in prayer and the sacraments just as a warrior would immerse into the regimen necessary to be a great warrior.  The foolish soldier blows off their commanders, they leave themselves isolated and fit for destruction.  Remember whose son you are and stick by His side.

3) Remember whose brother you are!  Nothing turns a battle like the soldiers breaking ranks.  I run a summer camp for high school men.  In it, we utilize navy seal training.  Why?  Because in Navy seal training, the interest isn't in personal glory but in the strength of the unit.  They stand tall with each other, they have each others backs. I will be blunt, Catholic men suck at  brotherhood that doesn't involve a beer.  It is as if we need to impress each other in a worldly approved fashion.  Talk about letting the enemy break through the lines!  Your brothers in Christ need you to bring out the best in each other, to challenge each other, to help in the training of each other.  We should be exalting each other to stay close to our Father.  We cannot be afraid of leadership and mentoring, we cannot abandon the spiritual leadership to our wives because we bought the lie that faith equals weakness.

Our enemy is far more fierce that the Ottoman fleet, the Nazis, or any other enemy we have ever seen.  Our enemy takes no quarter.  Our enemy is a scorched earth, kill them all, no mercy kind of enemy.  Our enemy is the devil and his minions who delight in our spiritual death and our eternal damnation.  They will spur us with one emasculating lie after another.  They are not content with our own destruction...no they want the destruction of your wives, your children, your grandchildren, your parish, and your friends!   If we wander from the sacraments and prayer, if we allow ourselves to be numbed, then we allow the lines to crumble and  this insatiable enemy to have access to all we love.  The devil revels in our dismissing him a mythical boogieman.  He enjoys our refined and oh so modern beliefs that dismiss him...we won't fight what we don't believe is there.  Make no mistake, our lack of belief will offer no defense to Satan's forward march.

We have ceded so much territory and are watching the effects of this destruction in our society, our families,and our churches. Now is the time for this to be turned, when we men must wake up, man up, and get about the business of taking back conquered territory.  This isn't about waiting for some new politician to come along, or some new guru.  NO...this is about recognizing that we already have an unbeatable general in Christ.  We already have the the armaments we need in the truth and in the grace of God.  We do not have to lose!  Even for those of us who might get taken out of the battle like a Maximilian Kolbe of Miguel Pro, we still win.  The Lord honors those who lose their life for His sake with life eternal.

Finally, to my brother priests.  Our laymen look to us to model this reality.  Do they see it?  Do they see in us warriors or liturgical zombies?  Do we make ready access to the grace of God through the sacraments for our men?  Do we spur them to manliness or are we Nurse Ratched doling out insipid niceness instead of boldness and manliness?  We who share in the shepherding role, be it as pastors or married men, are the officer's corps.  We will be held responsible for the authority given us. 

We need to understand the enemy and arm our charges and train them to engage and win.  My brother priests, we also must embrace mortifications, fasting, and abstinence for the good of our flock.  The execution of sacraments should be more than job we do, but a life giving moment to charge our flock.  We must be men of prayer who stay close to our father, who do not spurn our relationship with each other, with our bishops, with our Blessed Mother, and with our flock.  When the men and boys of our flocks see us, they have a right to see what being a man of God looks like in all of its array of armor and weaponry.  We cannot inspire to numbness but to greatness.  We need to remember we stand as the vanguard against the politically correct hordes and the screeching of the hellish demonic forces.  God has given us a special grace at our ordinations which we are duty bound to uphold and live.

These battles play out every day and who wins these battles is determined on who stands up.  We know God wins the war, now let us act as if we are on the winning side!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Time to Man up! What we need in our priests present and future.



Almost 20 years ago I was ordained to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church.  This decision was not easy and challenged every fiber of my being.  I remember the weeks before I was ordained as a deacon, when I would have to officially commit to a life of celibacy, asking myself that if I knew for certain that the Pope (John Paul II) would make celibacy optional for everyone ordained the week after I was ordained, would I still make the commitment.  I figured if I could not say yes then I had no business going forward. It was an acknowledgement that I was doing more than signing up for a career; I was signing up for a way of life.

I belong to the Gen-X generation.  I would suppose the same thing that motivates those who parent in my generation, motivate me.  I want to get my hands dirty in the lives of my flock.  I am not comfortable with leaving essential parts of the shepherding to others.  It is why I have taught classes for all 20 years of my priesthood.  It is why I take homilies so seriously.  It is why I try to get out to see my sick, my home bound, and those in hospitals.  It is why I am not comfortable with merely talking about what needs to be done, but getting about the business of what needs to be done.  It is why the kerygma of the Church is so important to me. There are things that help this and there are things that hurt this.

Certainly my own pride gets in the way.  Satan knows this and hammers on what frustrates me.  Heaven knows there is a whole lot there.  Wisdom, I suppose, is knowing when to speak and challenge and when to salve a wound.  I will admit there are things that frustrate me greatly and to these I wish to issue challenges.

First, as a priest, my job is to shepherd and intercede.  I did not commit to celibacy and simplicity to be a entertainer/social worker. My task at Mass isn't to be Barney in liturgically appropriate colored vestments.  My task is to be one part prophet and one part priest.  My task is to speak honestly and give a compelling reason for the listener to surrender their lives to Christ; to model their lives on Christ.  I can't preach that if I am not doing that. My job is to call them to holiness, not to mere goodness or vapid niceness.  My job is to stir up disciples fiery with the Holy Spirit, not numbed from banality.  My task is to intercede for them.  When we come to Mass, I am not coming to meet you, you are not coming to meet me, you are not coming to meet others...no.. we are coming to meet God! We are coming to give thanks.  We are coming to be nourished with the Body and Blood of Christ!  My job is to focus there.  The prophets in the Old Testament who tickled the people's ears were false prophets.  True prophets challenged and made known the love of God.

Second, as a man, my job is to model manhood.  I am sick unto death of the banal and juvenile definition of masculinity the world provides.  Ohhh, you can drink beer, throw a ball, and manipulate the ladies...colored my unimpressed.  I would hope actual manhood would resemble something a little higher functioning than what my dogs are capable of.  For those who follow a juvenile definition of manhood, the defense mechanism is to proclaim that religion is for the weak  and simple.  Really?  Controlling one's passions is easier than giving way to them?  Putting others first is easier that being selfish?  Recognizing the challenge of truth is easier than catering to one's most base instincts?  The real issue is that Catholicism preached and taught correctly is in your face; it is the drill sergeant pressing you to be better, it is the teacher who expects more of you, it is the doctor who wants you to get off the couch, drop the game console, and get moving before you waste away.  Catholicism isn't the weasel who pelts you with the tyranny of low expectations.

Catholicism presses us to be better human beings, better sons and daughters of God.  It demands we get up, enter into a relationship with God, and look radically different than the world.  I know that doesn't get preached from every pulpit...and shame on those clerics who substitute real food with strychnine laced cotton candy!  Shame on those who emasculate Christ and Catholicism to make it more palatable to those searching for the low road! Shame on those who degenerate the Eucharist, turning it into a milksop play or theatrical Hallmark card!  We priests cannot believe for a second we can poison the flock, lose large parts of the flock, and still stand  well with God.  I don't imagine things will go well when we stand before God and say 'Oops.'     

When I got ordained, it wasn't to renounce my masculinity.  In fact, it was to be more profound about it.  I am a Catholic man and a catholic priest.  I am not a finished product.  I know I need to grow, to challenge myself on all fronts of my life.  I know to be the man and priest my flock needs to me to be, that I must man up on all levels every day.  My hero and role model as I was formed was St John Paul II.  He was scared of nothing.  He was John Wayne in a white robe.  He showed me that being a priest of God meant you better be a man too.  This was  a man who defied the Nazis and then the Soviet Empire.  This was  man who stood up to theological usurpers and charlatans.  This was  a man who looked at those who wished him ill and did not back down.  He was like Christ.  Christ flew in the face of earthly and demonic power...he was deemed so dangerous that most wanted Him dead and wanted what He started dead.  That internal constitution of bravery and wisdom is the watermark right there for any male of the species who claims to be a Catholic man. 

We struggle nowadays with vocations to the priesthood.  Surprise, surprise, surprise!  What young man wants to be a entertainer/ social worker who has to stay single and never will get rich?  Why be bold and stand up when they see milquetoast in their clerical leaders?  I, personally, want to appeal to that strongest and boldest heart that stirs within the bodies and souls of men. Our weasel quota is filled!  We need bold warriors who will be priests and men of God.

In the Scriptures, we are told 365 times, "Do not be afraid."  Not once are we told, "Play it safe."   I am not interested in a safe church or a tidy nice gospel.  I am not interested in compromise with the worldly or lukewarm.  I am interested in calling people out of such lukewarmness and timidity.  I want this because this is what the Church wants...it is what Christ wants! We are at war with worldly and demonic forces and be better well suit up for battle.  Men, that means we best be men in the most noble and strongest way.  My brother priests, we better well know the tools and weapons we are given and the courage we need to muster ourselves to engage the enemy and protect our flocks. Being a priest has NEVER been for the faint of heart.  Encourage timidity and you will at best get timidity.  Encourage  lukewarmness and at best you'll get lukewarmness.  Encourage holiness and greatness and at best holiness and greatness is what you will get.  No more hand wringing.  No more weasel excuses. No more lukewarmness.  It is time to suit up and get about the business of the Kingdom of God!  It is time for all Catholic men to man up and to train the next generation of men to man up!  It is time for us priests to model boldly and courageously what it mean a man of God!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Looking for Heroes

What is a hero?  Is it someone who possesses super human qualities?  Is it someone who can do something better than anyone else?  Certainly the world of Marvel Comics and their ilk paint through their comics and graphic novels a universe of heroes.  Most of them, though, are tortured souls whose stories lines get darker and darker as time moves on.  Growing up, many young boys and girls made heroes of sports stars and actors or other entertainers.  I remember in 8th grade, we were asked by the teacher to put on the board who our hero was.  The boys put up the latest baseball or football star, the girls had an array of actresses and models.  I stood there with my mind blank.  I know I wanted to put down my grandfather, but everyone was putting down famous people.  I think it was then and there that I understood what a hero really was: someone who made me want to be a better person.

I never got into the Superman and other super heroes.  They were noble but unrealistic.  I never got into making heroes out of athletes or entertainers.  I enjoyed their talent, but there was nothing there that drew me to model my life after.  Now, there were people I knew: teachers, priests, relatives, and others I knew that inspired me.  The ones that inspired me were strong yet kind, they were courageous but low keyed, they had a sense of humor and a winning smile.  My heroes made me want to be smarter, stronger, and a generally better person.  The trouble was that most of my heroes had darker sides that I started to understand as I got older.  I started to see their flaws.  Some, including some of the priests I had admired, indulged in illegal behavior.  As upset as I got at some, I couldn't dismiss that despite their flaws, they inspired me to good things, and via negativa, showed me the trap falls to avoid.  Those lessons were equally powerful.

Maybe it is the realization as you get older that not everyone is as they seem.  Maybe it is because our society just seems to get darker and darker.  It seems now we delight in knocking heroes down.  I notice in some of what I see in various venues that the superhero is so often a dark figure, even a deeply flawed figure.  The scandals of athletes and entertainers seem a daily occurrence.  Professions I grew up respecting (clergy, law enforcement, teachers) are now popularly defined by the fallen minorities of the profession.  Where are the heroes?  Where are the ones who propel us to want to be better people?

Truth is, they are all around us.  They don't wear capes and leotards as a costume.  They do have flaws, but the way they overcome their flaws are perhaps their greatest super power.  I find heroes in the stories of the saints who overcame great personal sin, who refused to let the devil conquer them, and rose to great feats of courage and wisdom.  These men and women found the ultimate hero, a hero without flaw, in God.  I found my heroes in those who were prophetic, who risk being unpopular and mocked, so as to call us back from the brink.  I found these heroes in everyday life, in the form of every person who actively tries to lift up the voiceless, who embrace sacrifice and suffering for those whom they love.  I find my heroes in the quiet daily acts of mercy they do, in the selflessness they adhere to, in the life of prayer they live.

These heroes make me want to be a better person.  They make me want to be a better priest.  They help me move beyond defining myself by my worst traits, not by ignoring them, but by conquering them.  They make me want to a better man.  They are all around us, going about their lives.  We need to learn how to see them, even to see them beyond their failings.

Finally, we need to be heroes.  Cosplay doesn't make this happen.  Playing a video game doesn't either.  To be hero means we find the grace to conquer our faults, the grace to stand tall and to stand our ground, that we raise our voice when needed, and that we cultivate a selflessness in who we are and model that for those placed in our care.

My advice is simple:  Looking for hero?  Start be being a hero!   

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Homliy For Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

In the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah, Isaiah has been sent by God to the people of Judah to remind them of the call they were to have  as a nation. They were not given a land and heritage for their own sake, but they were to a be a light to the nations; a way that the nations would see the glory of God and be drawn to the glory of God.  However, that light was dimming quickly.  It wasn't because the people of Judah had abandoned the Temple.  The prayers and sacrifices were still going on.  However, these same people would then go into the valley of Hinnom and make prayers and sacrifices to the idols and gods of other nations. Furthermore, they were taking on the morals of the other nations as well.  The law of Moses, part of the covenant God made with Israel, demanded they take care of their needy and poor.  However, the people had grown negligent and abusive to to those in need.  God tells them to be just, to attend to those in need, to remove the corruption they had embraced, and so live up the call of being a light to the nations.

In the Gospel, we see the same call.  Notice Jesus says " You are the salt of the earth," and "you are the light of the world."  Not 'you should be' or 'you will' or 'it would be nice if'...but you are.  As the people of Israel were called to be a light to the nations, moreso now the disciples were called to be.  To them was given the light of truth with the full expectation that they keep that light alive.  When we were baptized, a lit candle was given to us or our parents or godparents with an instruction: Receive the light of Christ.  We were given a guardianship of a portion of the light of Christ so that as a member of the Church Militant, we might become a light by which others, as Jesus says, may see the good works you do and give glory to God."  Parents, you were given the responsibility to train your children to live in the light.  As we grow, we are expected to be a caretaker and witness to the light, not merely for our own good, but so that others may see that light and be drawn to it themselves.

It is possible to lose that light though, to become the salt that loses its flavor.  Many years ago I watched the movie, Becket, and a particular scene burned itself into my brain.  One of the king's nobles had kidnapped and murdered a priest.  He was unrepentant.  In the scene, St Thomas a Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury processes into Canterbury Cathedral with his monks, each carrying a large lit candle.    After the charges meriting excommunication were announced and the excommunication announced, the candles were turned upside down, the light snuffed out as it crashed to the floor.  The light that was given that noble was now snuffed out.  Truth be told, all mortal sin has the same effect on our lives.  When we choose the darkness of sin over the truth of the light of Christ, we extinguish that flame and plunge our souls into darkness.  If we choose to do this, we cannot expect to live in darkness but enjoy the benefits of the light.

Jesus asks what is to be done with salt that loses it flavor.  It is cast out.  No human can restore it.  Remember though, the creator of the salt has the ability to restore the flavor.  By the same token the one who extended the light to us can extend it again; only He can relight the light snuffed out.  As Catholics, we believe that one in a state of mortal sin cannot receive the fruit of the light: the grace of the sacraments until one has addressed that darkness and repents of it.  In the Catholic Church, the sacrament of Reconciliation  is the means of the grace necessary to have one's light relighted.  Once, relighted, one has the benefits of the light. Like the unwise virgins in the parable of the 10 virgins, we do not want to found with unlit candles when Christ comes again.

This light is important not only for ourselves, but because we are supposed to a light to the nations.  We need to learn from the mistakes of Israel that we cannot embrace the darkness of the world and still be a light to the world.  The Church is evangelical by her nature.  When we were baptized, we were baptized into a mission, a mission that requires the light of Christ.  We are light in the darkness to draw people out of darkness, no matter how deep that darkness be.  I remember several years back a young man and his friend came in for financial help from our St Clement Cares fund.  We got to talking about faith.  He asked me, "Father, do you think your church wouldn't want a person like as a member?"  He then pulled up his sleeve and exposed a rather heinous looking tattoo.  He told me it was a rash choice made when he was younger that he regretted.  I told him that I would like to believe that my parish would be able to look beyond this scar and see the repentant prodigal son who wanted to come home.  I don't know what happened to him.  But we left the door open, a door open to this day.

To be a light to the nations requires an openness to allowing repentance from those who dwelt in deep darkness.  We don't condone the sins, but we don't turn away the repentant either.  We are not a country club or fraternity looking for the right people who look like us.  No, we invite people into the truth.  To do that means we must embrace nothing of darkness.  We must give no quarter for darkness in our lives.  We must expel any compromise with the darkness of the world so that we might live up to the call to be the light of the world.  We cannot be a light by adopting the darkness, no, we can only be that light by embracing and fueling through our cooperation with God's grace that light of Christ given to us.

Let that light of Christ shine so that others may see that light and be drawn to the source of that light, Jesus Christ.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Suffer the Flock

In the Gospel for Saturday of the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time today, we are told that the disciples have returned after their being sent out to prepare the way for Jesus.  They are tired and Jesus invites them to rest.  They try to get some rest but the crowds keep following them.   They get  in a boat but the crowd beats them to their destination.  Jesus doesn't become exasperated by these crowds.  No, quite the opposite. We are told that Jesus is 'moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.' (Mark 6:34b)  His pity is not a stagnant reality, no, He proceeds to teach them then feed them.  It is worth noting that the Scripture passage says that they were LIKE sheep without a shepherd...not that they were sheep without a shepherd.  There is a difference.

God had provided shepherds for His people.  There were various teachers of the law (Rabbis, scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees), there was the High Priest and the Sanhedrin.  There was the Hasmonean King Herod.  All, though, largely failed in the shepherding of the flock.  There was nothing new in this,   In Ezekiel 34:1-16, God speaks to the shepherds of Israel, the kings and priests, who have failed to shepherd the people and now have left them ripe for destruction.  They pastured themselves and not those entrusted to their care.  Because sheep hunger, they will seek food.  If the shepherd isn't leading them, they will go elsewhere.  In departing from the flock, they become prey for whatever predator lurks about.

St. Peter reminds us that , "Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." (I Peter 5:5)  Just prior, St Peter writes to the presbyters, " Tend the flock of God in your midst, overseeing not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly.  Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock." (I Peter 5:2-3)

Today's Shepherds
 
As God draws His shepherds here and now from among human beings, the same concupiscence that challenges any of us, challenges them as well.  Nonetheless, by virtue of the change given them at ordination, they are given the grace to be more closely configured to Christ.  The impetus for them to model triumph over concupiscence is imperative.  Furthermore, being given such grace, we are the shepherd of the flock assigned to us, by a bishop, but ultimately by God.  Those placed in our care do not belong to us, but to God. When we lose a sheep, we don't lose our sheep...we lose one of His.  We have the duty to be sure what is fed to our flock is the food the Good Shepherd who have them have eat.  How we execute our shepherding will help or hinder the other men called to shepherd.  It will either inspire others to listen to the call of vocation, or it will drive them away.

However the role of shepherd is not contained to the ordained; it shared by those who are given that job within the context of the family, also known as the domestic Church: parents and spouses.   I speak particularly to husbands here.  While you wife has a primary role of leading you closer to Christ, you are the shepherd in your home.  You are given the responsibility to leading your spouse and your children closer to Christ.  This is not your wife's responsibility, it is yours.  She has responsibilities of her own, she should not need to shoulder yours as well.  The flock given to you is not your own.  It is God's first.  As stated above, when you drive off a sheep, you lose not a member of your flock, you lose a member of His flock.

Some sheep will stray despite our best efforts.  This we cannot help so much.  But the sheep that wander because they were never taught good pastures from plague filled dumpsters are on us.  The sheep that flee because of our neglect or abuse are on us as well.  The sheep that are left in ignorance for lack of competent instruction are on us as well.  The sheep we taught to eat in the plague filled dumpsters are on us.  When what we fed is largely indiscernible from the message of the world, we poison our own flocks.  We don't merely let them wander, we slay them!  When we become more concerned about  what we can get out of the sheep and not what we give to the sheep, we become the shepherds that Ezekiel warns will face the wrath of God.  We become the abusers of His children.

The good shepherds

When Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd, He isn't saying that He is a good person who happens to be a shepherd, but shepherd who good at being a shepherd.  We know this in that the text, originally written in Greek, uses the word kalos (good at) instead of agathos (good quality) in reference to Jesus as shepherd. We men , both clergy and married, are called to good at being shepherds.

There are many good shepherds out there.  There are many good deacons,  priests, and bishops that actively tend to the good of their flock.  These get their hands dirty in being among the flock.  They also embrace prayer and mortifications for the good of their flock. They are cautious in being sure that the pastures are teeming with truth, are abundant with grace, and lead to the Kingdom of Heaven.  They are liberal in the access they afford the flock to the pastures of the sacraments. They do not see the flock as an impediment to their joy, but as a cause for joy.  They correct with charity, teach with truth, and tend to the dying and sick with care.  They are ferocious in their protection of the flock and place themselves in between the flock and that which would prey on them.

There are many good dads and husbands out there as well.  They, too, see their wife and children as their joy and not an impediment to joy.  They too embrace prayer and mortifications for those in their care.  They too are diligent about the pastures in which their charges feed.  They too place themselves permanently between their flock and those who would prey on them.  They too make sure their flock is feed regularly in the pastures of the sacraments. They also correct with charity and teach with truth. These priests and husbands/fathers are real men who courageously receive that mantle of shepherd, living up to the promises made on the days of their ordinations and/or weddings.

The Bad and the Ugly

However, we must deal with the reality that not all men , both ordained and not, live up to such high standards.  In fact, it could be argued most are not.  I say this because of the societal breakdown we see, of the careening into oblivion of the Church in our country and in the western world.  So very many of those thrust into shepherding roles were never taught to be shepherds. Like a cancer, this disease has spread rapidly.  So intense is the disease that many men stay overgrown boys and flee from the possibility of shepherding.  When the key role of training shepherds has been left for the wolves to instruct, it cannot be any surprise that both family life and parish life struggle the way they do.

Too often the role of shepherd is fled from because  to be a true shepherd requires a heroic degree of selflessness. It mush easier to seek self satisfaction than to live for others.  It is easier to simulate commitment than it is live committed to something other than one's self.  It is easier to fatten oneself than to feed another.  It is easier to manipulate than it is to love.  The grace of the sacraments of Holy Orders or Marriage can be tossed aside like rubbish by the weak man who finds the rigors of such sacraments too hard.

These shepherds become cowards at best and wolves at worst.  Some are so self absorbed they don't notice the wolf picking off their flock.  Some are so timid they feign helplessness in protecting their flock from the wolves.  Some are so narcissistic that they invite they wolves in.  Some become wolves themselves, ripping apart their flocks, raining down abuse of every kind to sate their own lusts and greeds.  The damage these shepherds do is immense.  It is not enough that they fail to teach those in their care how to become shepherds in their own turn, they teach them to be wolves!

In their sloth they restrict the sacraments, seeing them as impediments to avenues of self gratification.  In their negligence, they farm out their shepherding duties to anyone and everyone, wolf or not, and then blame these surrogates for the outcome of the sheep.  In their cowardice, they slink away from the duty to stand between their charges and the predators, having the gall to blame the sheep for their own destruction.  To these bad shepherds, Ezekiel promises a harsh outcome! 

The hope

Even if the majority of the shepherds fail, the Lord never leaves His sheep without hope.  That said, men, we must dust off the juvenile selfishness of this world and stand up and live up to the sacramental call of our promises so that we may teach the next generation to embrace their own sacramental call as the Good Shepherd would have them live.  We must lead, not with the force of tyranny, but with the diligent care of a shepherd.  That means we come last.  Yes, WE come last.  We shepherd in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd!  He lays down His life for all of us.  So motivated is He by love.  So motivated are we to be as well.  We are not to see those placed in our care as impediments but as avenues by which we prove our manly valor and strength.  We endure for them, we pray for them, we make sure what is fed them is worthy of who we serve.  We love them.

I do not believe that our culture and church in this country is so far gone that we cannot turn it around.  By the grace of God, it can be turned around.  For this to happen, though, men...we will need to be men.  That requires more than a chiseled physique or a high paying job.  It requires more than being the guy women want and men want to be like...it goes beyond any external quality and plunges into the depths of who we are.  It requires a deep relationship with the Good Shepherd Himself.  We cannot model what we do not have.  It is a juvenile attitude to believe we do not need God or if we do, we become His master.  We have bought into a devilish (literally) trap that religion is for the weak and unsophisticated. It's time for us to man up and be the shepherds we were graced to be through the sacraments.  It's difficult to be sure.  But those placed in our care deserve our effort because they are God's before they are ours.  The sheep should not suffer because of our negligence or abuse; no, they should thrive because we are the shepherds God has appointed us to be!  Let us be shepherds who are good at being shepherds!